Society needs to take a holistic approach to tackling intergenerational trauma and addiction in the north inner-city, says Eddie Mullins, who was appointed chairperson of the North Inner City Local Community Safety Partnership in May 2023.
Gardaí have an important role to play but they cannot tackle major social issues alone, said Mullins, the former governor of Mountjoy Prison.
“I laughed when I heard people say that they should put armed guards on the streets,” says Mullins, laughing and shaking his head. “What are they going to do? Shoot people?”
The HSE, Tusla, youth services and Dublin City Council all need to contribute to making the north inner-city safer too, he says, sitting at the kitchen table on Friday in the partnership offices on James Joyce Street, unwrapping a Roses chocolate.
“Absolutely – it is possible to effect change,” says Mullins, who speaks clearly and with confidence. “We have to be realistic about the outcomes and we have to allow this project time to work.”
The North Inner City Local Community Safety Partnership was set up in July 2021, as one of three pilots nationwide aimed at testing a new approach to community safety, one that brings together a broad table of state agencies and local organisations to help address challenges.
But delays around releasing its concrete action plan, against a summer backdrop of high-profile violence, led to concerns that the partnership wasn’t meeting its brief. And the council and Gardaí announced in September that they were going to launch another anti-social behaviour, crime and drugs in the inner-city.
Mullins says that his group’s community safety plan, which it finally published in September, is good, but the partnership needs five years to demonstrate that it can yield results. “We won’t change the world but we could chip away at the social issues.”
The partnership will work on improving the environment in the north inner-city, linking up all the relevant agencies, and promoting sports and well-being programmes, as well as training programmes and other opportunities, he said.
They work closely with community gardaí, he said, and even diverting one young person away from a life of crime is a success story.
Creating other paths
Mullins grew up in the south inner-city. His life could have easily taken a different path, he says. “I’m very lucky I escaped the ravages of drugs, in the mid-80s I went off to train as a chef.”
Shortly after that, the heroin epidemic gripped the inner-city. “I know myself, and I know I’m easily led, so I know it could have gone that way,” he says.
He started working as a chef and then got a job in the Irish Prison Service, and worked his way up to management. He retired from the service this year, after more than 30 years.
He has a master’s in management as well as qualifications in mediation, and health and safety. He recently took over as CEO of Merchants Quay Ireland, a day service for drug users and people experiencing homelessness.
And in May this year, Mullins also stepped into the role of voluntary chairperson of the North Inner City Community Safety Partnership. The partnership should aim to offer young people from the inner-city routes into careers and away from crime and drugs, he says.
He would also like to see a wider range of training opportunities available to young people in the north inner-city. Solas, the organisation that runs apprenticeship programmes, is based in the area, he says.
The programmes that delivered the best results in Mountjoy were those that worked on physical education and personal development, says Mullins.
In particular, the one led by Dublin footballer Philly McMahon, says Mullins. “The impact Philly had with people.”
As Mullins sees it, most people don’t deliberately decide to get involved in crime. “Most anti-social behaviour is a result of social deprivation, poverty, peer pressure and influence,” he says. “What has been done before, poor education, trauma.”
Then, there are a small but influential minority who make serious money out of crime and get young people involved in it, he says.
The partnership needs to find ways to divert young people. “If there are 10 lads involved in criminal behaviour and you can get one of them out, that is a success,” says Mullins.
People can change their lives if they decide to, he said. “You will not forcibly change a person. You can’t beat somebody into submission.”
Gardaí have a huge role to play, he says, but policing solutions won’t cure addiction, for example, says Mullins.
The community policing approach is really successful, he says, and the partnership works closely with the community gardaí. The local superintendent is very supportive of the partnership approach, he says.
Mullins says that, for him, appearances also matter. “It’s very important that the environment is modern, it’s positive.”
He says he believes in the broken windows theory, which posits that visible signs of crime and anti-social behaviour create an urban environment that encourages more crime and disorder.
An unusual area
Over the summer there were cycles of debate around whether the north inner-city had become more dangerous or not. But there is a lack of reliable statistics around trends – a shortage of transparent data, and anecdotal reports that some people don’t call the guards.
Mullins says that as he sees it, the north inner-city is a particular environment because of the footfall.
It has two major transport hubs for the country – Connolly Station and Busáras – alongside the major business district in the Docklands and the International Financial Services Centre, on top of national concert and sports venues such as Croke Park and the Point.
That brings in such large numbers of people and, taking that into account, the crime statistics are no worse than in any other urban area of Ireland, he says. “We are potentially in danger of talking ourselves into a bigger crisis than actually exists.”
Mullins says he was surprised in July when the United States embassy issued a warning to tourists coming to Dublin. Dublin is not dangerous compared to a major city in the United States, he says, where there are much higher levels of violent crime and shootings.
But, says Mullins, the problem is that people feel the area is unsafe. Some women say they don’t feel safe walking around after dark, and that needs to be tackled, he says.
Employing community-safety wardens is one step the partnership is trying to make the streets feel safer, he said.
They are not meant to substitute for gardaí on the beat, he says, but are there to assist older people, tourists or anyone else who needs help – and to make the place feel a bit safer.
“The recruitment process for those people was very precise,” says Mullins. “I’m so impressed with the way they have engaged with people.”
The community safety partnership cannot solve addiction but it will hopefully bring a sense of safety and comfort to people living in the city, he said.
Anti-social behaviour is often intergenerational. Young people have seen it from an older generation and so what is normal needs to change, and that is not going to happen quickly, says Mullins. “This is a marathon. This is not a sprint.”
Also unusual about the inner-city, says Mullins, is the concentration of homelessness and addiction services. The vast majority of homeless hostels for single people from across the four Dublin council areas are based in the city centre.
“The biggest challenge is the overconcentration of hostels and drug treatment services,” he says. “Don’t get me wrong we need more of them – but we are putting them all in the one area.”
That said, some people who use those services like the anonymity of using services in the city centre, he says.
“The Dublin Region Homeless Executive (DRHE) sources emergency accommodation via an open tender procurement process that seeks emergency accommodation across the Dublin Region,” says a spokesperson for the DRHE.
“We work with providers that are identified during this process, where accommodation is available and is most suitable,” he says. The DRHE also supports the other councils to develop emergency accommodation in their areas, he says.
In September 2023, a Dublin City Council official announced plans to set up a new forum together with the Gardaí to work on crime and anti-social behaviour across the city centre.
It will tackle issues in the inner-city by delegating actions to the appropriate agencies – the Gardaí, the council, youth services, drugs services or Tusla, said Karl Mitchell, the council’s director of services for the city centre.
That sounds like a remit mirroring the community safety partnership. Mullins says that setting up multiple forums to do the same thing isn’t helpful.
“We need to give this plan and the partnership a chance and then judge it on its results,” he says. The results should be fully assessed at the end of the five years, to see what worked and what didn’t, he says.
To be successful the partnership will need more resources, he says. “There is an acceptance that when you have challenges and issues as diverse as they are in the north inner-city, you cannot put it on the shoulders of one or two people.”
The pilot programme cost around €370,000 over two years, according to the evaluation report.
“We’ve gone through the pilot phase now, as we roll out to embed the partnership in the community, we will need additional resources,” he says. “That is something we would be very strong on.”
The Department of Justice didn’t respond in time for publication to a query sent Monday about whether it will grant more funding.